For sake of humanity, time to rethink use of disposable diapers

In Indonesia, especially among the younger generation, the disposable diaper is becoming indispensable and its use has slowly but surely ingrained into everyday lives.  Indeed, the disposable diaper, while not being environmentally friendly, is a practical solution in the modern society, especially for families with young children. Therefore, there is a need for the government as well as NGOs to educate the public on the proper disposal of disposable diapers.   

Disposable diapers are made with non-recyclable polyethylene plastic, which contains toxic chemicals and can break down into microplastics, which is harmful to both humans and the environment. Every year, Indonesia, ranked sixth in the world for usage, produces six billion disposable diapers, with a birth rate of four to six million babies per year. 

According to Andreas Agus Kristanto Nugroho, a researcher at Ecoton (Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation), there is no practical way to separate people’s lives from the use of plastics.  He said that improper disposal of diapers, for example by throwing used diapers in the rivers, is one of the major reasons microplastics found their way into human bodies through the food chain.

Throwing used diapers in rivers is a serious environmental problem compounded by the fact that a large number of Indonesians, especially those staying in rural areas, believed the myth that how you dispose of the diapers is directly related to the health of the baby and the best way to ensure the good health of the baby is by throwing the diapers in the rivers.

Anita Dewi Moelyaningrum, an environmental health lecturer at the Faculty of Public Health, University of Jember, said this myth is doing a lot of harm and there is an urgent need to dispel this myth and disseminate a correct understanding to the public.

Riska Darmawanti, national coordinator of the Indonesia Water Community of Practice (Indo Water CoP), said microplastics can cause cancer and infertility, among other harmful effects.  Most of these adverse health effects only appeared in the long term, by then it may already be too late to seek treatment.

Hermawan Some from the Zero Garbage Community cautioned that with today’s high rate of disposable diapers usage, even landfills will be full soon.  Besides raising public awareness, it may also be time for the government and all stakeholders to consider ways to reduce diaper usage, find alternatives to disposable diapers and to use recyclable materials to produce disposable diapers.  

Photo credit: iStock/ Natalya Trofimchuk

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